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Heads Up! I Am a Tree: Extraordinary Theater

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It’s 10:45 pm. Having unexpectedly witnessed not only a virtuoso performance but a dramatization whose originality and force ranged for 1 ¾ hours from engaging to enthralling, I feel no need to mull, no compulsion to take care of other obligations, no inclination to allow distraction.

Thirty-five year-old Claire has made every choice in her life motivated by fear, which she initially makes a good and darkly humorous case for having served her well. What are the odds of meeting another claustrophobe climbing the stairs of The Empire State Building, discussing literature for 102 flights only to learn one’s fellow traveler runs Random House, and securing a job?

A woman one might describe as the result of emotional carnage, Claire is provoked by circumstances to search for the truth about a mother she never knew by visiting aunts of whose existence she’d been unaware. Her father, “the professor,” profoundly remote during her youth and physically absent soon thereafter, never answers mail she fatalistically signs “as always, your genetic progeny.”

Three strong, idiosyncratic women, each in her own home, meet their niece for the first time. The rather spiritual Aurelia romantically compares Claire’s mother to an amalgam of passionate operas. Feisty, hedonistic Lillian calls Mims (a nickname created from the early identification of m & m s) “wicked…our own little Dorothy Parker.” Straightforward Lou (Louella) describes her as “selfish, jealous and probably coo-coo.” They ALL have emphatic, revelatory opinions about their brother-in law.“Go see her,” Lou tells Claire, “She’s your blood, your starting point…it will be the end of something and the beginning of your greatest adventure.” Yes. Mother is alive. (I swear, it spoils nothing to know this.)

Playwright Dulcy Rogers leads her audience through a masterful maze. More enmeshed at every turn, we’re privy to meticulously doled out information and asked, like our heroine, to make of it what we might in light of its sources. Rogers has invented such vivid and intriguing characters one is a bit disappointed each time Claire moves on towards what she perceives as an answer/exit. Though distinct personalities, the aunts seem both like family and one into which her mother once fit. Descriptions of invisible photographs and mementoes are inventive. Claire is credible and sympathetic. The play is both entertaining and filled with pathos.

Originally conceived of as a piece for multiple actors, the evolution of I Am a Tree as a one woman show was something of a colorful accident. Audiences reap the benefit.

Actress Dulcy Rogers effectively conjures four roles with changes of inflection, enunciation, and gesture, none of it overt. Her focus is so consistent one viscerally feels with Claire the surprised pleasure and gratitude of warm recollection one minute and the gut wrenching blow of painful information the next. Expressions are never without foundation. Brief narrative passages are delivered without breaking emotional thru line. Rogers makes the last pivotal scene mesmerizing.

Director Allan Miller has pulled a rabbit from the hat, successfully effecting one of the most difficult of theatrical accomplishments, a solo show with multiple roles. Shifting from one character to another is made gracefully fluent. Conversations are beautifully paced to allow for thought-response time of both parties. Claire’s reflection of each environment is graphic. Physical interaction is realistic. The stage is utilized with visual variety. Humor rides tandem with upheaval, neither diminishing the other. The play’s beginning and ending are beautifully conceived.

Neil Patel’s excellent set presents a minimalist nod to the show’s title, itself a lovely conceit, and does it justice. Both Jason Crystal’s Sound Design and Yael Lubetsky’s Lighting Design couldn’t be more effective.

Photos Carol Rosegg

United Pies Inc. presents
I Am a Tree
Written and performed by Dulcy Rogers
Directed by Allan Miller
Theater at St. Clement’s
423 West 46th St. (between 9th and 10th)
212-352-3101 or www.theatermania.com
Through June 30, 2012

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